We asked dentists to chime in on trending DIY dentistry trends.

By Hana Hong
October 16, 2020
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In the past few months of quarantine, DIY beauty has turned into a lifestyle. From trimming our own bangs and coloring our roots to grooming our brows and doing our nails, we had to become our own hairstylists, estheticians, and makeup artists. This at-home mentality has also bled into some strange areas—and the strangest of them all? DIY dentistry. 

Some TikTok-ers took this at-home trend even further—and viral videos have surfaced of people reshaping their teeth with nail files, dousing their mouth with bleach, and even creating their own braces. While we’re all for beauty rituals at home, some of these trends seem rather...questionable, so we turned to professional dentists (you know, with actual doctoral degrees) to see how far you can—or rather should—go with at-home dentistry.

1

While using a nail file to file a chipped tooth might seem harmless, trying to smooth rough edges yourself has consequences. “You can remove enamel (that hard, white protective layer over the teeth),” says Matt Nejad, DDS, a celebrity cosmetic dentist in Beverly Hills. “Doing that will make your teeth look yellow and leave it more vulnerable to staining.” Removing the enamel can also leave the tooth’s nerve vulnerable, and Dr. Nejad says that patients often complain of increased sensitivity post self-shaping. “Not only will removing enamel leave you with chronic sensitivity, you can also remove too much of the tooth. Shorter front teeth will negatively impact your bite, something that can lead to a whole host of problems, including TMJ issues, jaw pain, and molar grinding.”

2

Unless we're talking about a baby tooth, yanking your own teeth will do you more harm than good. “Don’t ever do this yourself,” warns says Nammy Patel, DDS, dentist and author of Age With Style: Your Guide To A Youthful Smile & Healthy Living. “This can cause cavitation, an infection inside a hole in the bone where the tooth used to reside. A dentist has the proper sterile instruments to get inside and clean this area properly. Without proper training, self-extraction can lead to snapping the root before it’s all out, infection, and the need for a surgical procedure to fix it.” 

3

The quest for pearly whites is polluted with weird hacks and ingredients, including activated charcoal (this is a myth, according to Dr. Nejad), oil pulling, and acidic fruits. Whitening treatments are more accessible than ever, but you should take product claims with a grain of salt. “Hydrogen peroxide is carcinogenic, so contact with soft tissue and ingestion should be minimized,” says Dr. Nejad. “Direct application to teeth, in a controlled manner or with properly fitting trays minimizes this impact, but bleaching at home can cause severe gum recession and enamel damage.” Dr. Patel also notes that most of the people you see doing this on social media are using hydrogen peroxide purchased online, which often has many times the amount allowed in regulated online teeth-whitening products. Bottom line: Leave this to the professionals.

4

You’ve probably seen plaque scrapers that you can buy at your local drug or grocery stores, but the majority of dentists don’t recommend them. It takes special education to be able to safely scrape off plaque and tartar from your teeth without accidentally damaging your gums, and dentists and hygienists have to go through years of training to learn the process themselves. Because these tools are so sharp, they can easily cause gum damage and recession if used improperly. Tartar can also accidentally be shoved under the gumline, causing oral health problems, says Dr. Nejad. 

5

Braces are expensive, so it doesn’t come as a total surprise that creative minds have tried to replicate the process themselves. One search on YouTube for “gap bands” shows people tying pairs of teeth together with rubber bands in order to pull them closer, closing the gap. But while gambling with your mouth is a risky game, the stakes are even higher when it comes to DIY braces.

“Moving your teeth is much more complicated than people realize,” says Dr. Nejad. “It might look easy, but it took over 10 years of training for dentists to provide braces—and it is this knowledge and planning that is the most valuable part of orthodontic treatment. When teeth are moved, the condition of your gum, bone, and teeth must all be considered.” Straightening your teeth without addressing all these issues could lead to a whole lot of unnecessary pain and even the worst case scenario: tooth loss.

6

While oral care is best done professionally, making your own toothpaste—when done right—can have its benefits. Just remember to use dentist-suggested ingredients, sans acidic components and abrasive components. “By making toothpaste yourself, you can create a better, cost-effective product without dangerous chemicals,” says Dr. Patel. “It’s a good way to avoid the ingredients in conventional toothpaste that health experts consider damaging or toxic.” Her DIY toothpaste includes coconut oil, which whitens teeth and combats dry mouth, and other natural oils such as cinnamon and peppermint.

7

Going to the dentist is an unpleasant experience overall, but I think everyone can agree that the water flosser at the end is pretty satisfying. You can utilize this into your own oral routine, according to Dr. Patel. “It’s a great tool to get in between the tight crevices that traditional floss can’t reach. It’s easier to use than floss and provides a deeper clean with a pressurized stream of water, which pulsates to blast away food particles and built-up plaque.” (We recommend Waterpik WP-660 Water Flosser ($93; amazon.com)). She also suggests using a sonic toothbrush because it’s more powerful—and more efficient at eliminating bacteria—than its electric counterpart.